What is Volume Training (VT)? Plus 3 Split Routines

By James Collier BSc (Hons) RNutr

The basic principle of volume training (VT) is to perform lots of sets and lots of reps per muscle or muscle group. Volume can vary from 3 to 10 sets per exercise, 10 to 40 (or more) sets per body part with rep-range from 10 to 30 per set.

Indeed, some very high volume training routines can mean so many sets that workouts can be very tiring and you’ll need two workouts per day and as many as 12 workouts per week! However, in my opinion, even for experienced trainers and just for the short term this level of ultra-high volume training is too much.

My advice is for a more moderate volume, based (for the main) around 10 to 16 sets for smaller muscle groups and 14 to 28 sets for larger body parts and 3 to 7 sets per exercise. Reps will be from 10 to 25 per set.

There are many different routines and what you follow will depend on what equipment you have available at your gym. Also, the principles of VT are quite broad and it can itself incorporate other principles like giant sets, up-sets, FST-7 (see www.fst-7.com) and more.

With VT training frequency should be 4 to 6 days per week. Volume trainers use different training cycles in order to target gains in one area: Muscle mass, endurance, strength, power, etc. VT utilises more of the medium and slower twitch muscle fibres, i.e. more type 2a, and even an element of type 1, and less of type 2b. In bodybuilding it’s important to stimulate all types of fibre for maximum performance in training as well as for optimal muscle size and strength.

For this reason, if someone is looking to compete in the future, they should do different periods of different styles, and VT should not be performed long term. Indeed, too much could lead to overtraining. For strength, especially tendon strength, the trainer should do periods of compound heavy training, like high intensity training.

If you’re simply looking to change your body composition and increase muscle and fitness for your own appearance and good health, then you can do VT longer term, but I do suggest changing exercises around now and again. Also, with VT there is a significant cardiovascular element to the work due to the high rep range, so, not only will it stimulate a different type of muscle fibre, but there will be benefits to the heart and lungs as well as general fitness.

VT routines can be tiring if you’re not very fit, so you may want to build up on a good routine. The principle of them is that rest periods between sets needs to be fairly short, but sufficient for full recovery. For this reason it may be best to train with just one training partner and adopt the I-go-you-go strategy with no undue rests.

There are 100s of different routines adopting the principles of VT varying with different training strategies and depending on what equipment you have available. Below are three example VT routines which I use using equipment commonly found in most gyms.

The plans are by no means definitive, but are a useful guide. If you’re fortunate enough to have a bigger range of different machines, then feel free to swap an exercise to suit and to adapt the routine.

Each of the three plans are similar in principle, but to suit different training frequencies: 5 days, 4 days and 3 days per week training schedules, depending on what you can fit in. Additional cardiovascular exercise is fine, but I would only perform a maximum of 20 minutes next to a weight training session.

Cardio sessions can be longer if done at a different time of day or on a different day, but only to the fitness level of the individual and calorie intake will need to be adapted appropriately.

Diet needs to be optimal for your goals, but will need to include plenty of regular quality protein and slow released carbs through the day, along with some simple carbs post workout in order to refuel and give you energy for the next workout, essential fats and fruit and veg. For detailed meal plans see our Bodybuilding & Fitness Nutrition articles.

You’ll also need plenty of rest: this includes sleep at night and, if possible, relaxing before and after training – you will be worn out!

Cycle VT for 6 weeks and then try other training methods to prevent boredom and to ensure all the muscle is stimulated.

Volume Training – 5 Day Split Routine

Day 1 – Legs

  • 5 mins bike or cross trainer to warm up
  • Leg extensions – 3 sets 10-12 reps; 1 set 25 reps
  • Hack squats – 4 sets 10-12 reps
  • Staggered leg press – 3 sets 12 reps each leg forward (i.e. that’s 24 reps per set)
  • Walking lunges – 3 sets of 20 steps
  • Lying leg curls – 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Stiff-legged deadlifts – 3 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Calf raises – 4 heavy sets of 8 reps
  • Seated calf raises – 4 sets of 12-15 reps
  • 5 mins bike or cross trainer to warm down

Day 2 – Chest + Abs

  • 5 mins bike or cross trainer to warm up
  • Bench press – 3 sets 10-12 reps; 1 set 25 reps
  • Incline press – 4 sets 10-12 reps
  • Dumbbell flyes – 4 sets 10-12 reps
  • Pec-dec – 3 sets 10-12 reps; 1 set 25 reps
  • Cable cross-overs – 4 sets of 12-15 reps rapidly, varying position
  • Leg-raises – 3 sets to failure

Day 3 – Back + Abs

  • 5 mins bike or cross trainer to warm up
  • Lat pull-downs (front neck) – 3 sets 10-12 reps; 1 set 25 reps
  • Low-pulley rows – 4 sets 10-12 reps
  • Deadlifts – 3 sets 8-10 reps
  • Bent-over rows – 3 sets 8-10 reps
  • Straight-arm pull-downs – 3 sets 10-12 reps; 1 set 25 reps
  • Sit-up crunches – 3 sets to failure

Day 4 – Delts + Traps

  • 5 mins bike or cross trainer to warm up
  • Dumbbell side lateral raises – 4 sets 10-12 reps
  • Seated shoulder press (front neck) – 3 sets 10-12 reps; 1 set 25 reps
  • Steering wheels – 3 sets 30 turns
  • Barbell front laterals – 3 sets 10-12 (these two exercises may be performed as a superset)
  • Seated bent-over laterals (rear delts) – 4 sets 10-12 reps
  • Shrugs – 4 sets 8-10 reps
  • Upright rows – 3 sets 8-10 reps

Day 5 – Bis + Tris

  • 5 mins bike or cross trainer to warm up
  • Skull-crushers – 4 sets 10-12 reps
  • Tricep push-downs – 4 sets 10-12 reps
  • Reverse grip single arm tricep pushdowns – 3 sets 10-12 reps each arm
  • Stranding EZ curls – 4 sets 10-12 reps
  • Preacher curls – 3 sets 10-12 reps; 1 set 25 reps
  • Concentration curls – 2 sets 8-10 reps each arm
  • Reverse curls – 4 sets 10-12 reps
  • Wrist curls – 4 sets 10-12 reps

Volume Training – 4 Day Split Routine

Day 1 – Legs

  • 5 mins bike or cross trainer to warm up
  • Leg extensions – 3 sets 10-12 reps; 1 set 25 reps
  • Hack squats – 4 sets 10-12 reps
  • Staggered leg press – 3 sets 12 reps each leg forward (i.e. that’s 24 reps per set)
  • Walking lunges – 3 sets of 20 steps
  • Lying leg curls – 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Stiff-legged deadlifts – 3 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Calf raises – 4 heavy sets of 8 reps
  • Seated calf raises – 4 sets of 12-15 reps
  • 5 mins bike or cross trainer to warm down

Day 2 – Chest + Triceps + Abs

  • 5 mins bike or cross trainer to warm up
  • Bench press – 3 sets 10-12 reps; 1 set 25 reps
  • Incline press – 4 sets 10-12 reps
  • Dumbbell flyes – 4 sets 10-12 reps
  • Pec-dec – 3 sets 10-12 reps; 1 set 25 reps
  • Cable cross-overs – 4 sets of 12-15 reps rapidly, varying position
  • Skull-crushers – 3 sets 10-12 reps
  • Tricep push-downs – 4 sets 10-12 reps
  • Reverse grip single arm tricep pushdowns – 3 sets 10-12 reps each arm
  • Leg-raises – 3 sets to failure

Day 3 – Back + Biceps

  • 5 mins bike or cross trainer to warm up
  • Lat pull-downs (front neck) – 3 sets 10-12 reps; 1 set 25 reps
  • Low-pulley rows – 4 sets 10-12 reps
  • Deadlifts – 3 sets 8-10 reps
  • Bent-over rows – 3 sets 8-10 reps
  • Straight-arm pull-downs – 3 sets 10-12 reps; 1 set 25 reps
  • Stranding EZ curls – 4 sets 10-12 reps
  • Preacher curls – 2 sets 10-12 reps; 1 set 25 reps
  • Concentration curls – 2 sets 8-10 reps each arm

Day 4 – Delts + Traps + Abs

  • 5 mins bike or cross trainer to warm up
  • Dumbbell side lateral raises – 4 sets 10-12 reps
  • Seated shoulder press (front neck) – 3 sets 10-12 reps; 1 set 25 reps
  • Steering wheels – 3 sets 30 turns
  • Barbell front laterals – 3 sets 10-12 reps (these two exercises may be performed as a superset)
  • Seated bent-over laterals (rear delts) – 4 sets 10-12 reps
  • Shrugs – 4 sets 8-10 reps
  • Upright rows – 3 sets 8-10 reps
  • Sit-up crunches – 3 sets to failure

Volume Training – 3 Day Split Routine

Day 1 – Legs + abs

  • 5 mins bike or cross trainer to warm up
  • Leg extensions – 3 sets 10-12 reps; 1 set 25 reps
  • Hack squats – 3 sets 10-12 reps
  • Staggered leg press – 3 sets 12 reps each leg forward (i.e. that’s 24 reps per set)
  • Walking lunges – 3 sets of 20 steps
  • Lying leg curls – 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Stiff-legged deadlifts – 3 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Calf raisers – 4 heavy sets of 8 reps
  • Seated calf raises – 3 sets of 12-15 reps
  • 5 mins bike or cross trainer to warm down
  • Sit-up crunches – 3 sets to failure
  • Leg-raises – 3 sets to failure

Day 2 – Chest + Delts + Triceps

  • 5 mins bike or cross trainer to warm up
  • Bench press – 3 sets 10-12 reps; 1 set 25 reps
  • Dumbbell flyes – 4 sets 10-12 reps
  • Pec-dec – 3 sets 10-12 reps; 1 set 25 reps
  • Cable cross-overs – 4 sets of 12-15 reps rapidly, varying position
  • Dumbbell side lateral raises – 3 sets 10-12 reps
  • Seated shoulder press (front neck) – 3 sets 10-12 reps; 1 set 25 reps
  • Steering wheels – 3 sets 30 turns
  • Barbell front laterals – 3 sets 10-12 reps (these two exercises may be performed as a superset)
  • Seated bent-over laterals (rear delts) – 3 sets 10-12 reps
  • Skull-crushers – 3 sets 10-12 reps
  • Tricep push-downs – 3 sets 10-12 reps
  • Reverse grip single arm tricep pushdowns – 3 sets 10-12 reps each arm

Day 3 – Back + Traps + Biceps

  • 5 mins bike or cross trainer to warm up
  • Lat pull-downs (front neck) – 3 sets 10-12 reps; 1 set 25 reps
  • Low-pulley rows – 3 sets 10-12 reps
  • Deadlifts – 3 sets 8-10 reps
  • Bent-over rows – 3 sets 8-10 reps
  • Straight-arm pull-downs – 3 sets 10-12 reps; 1 set 25 reps
  • Shrugs – 3 sets 8-10 reps
  • Upright rows – 3 sets 8-10 reps
  • Stranding EZ curls – 3 sets 10-12 reps
  • Preacher curls – 2 sets 10-12 reps; 1 set 25 reps
  • Concentration curls – 2 sets 8-10 reps each arm

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